Mr. Cortisone, Happy Days

"A brave work of art about human existence, painful at times humorous ... a must see."
Le Monde
"Challenges the definition of first-person film-making and redefines the borders of subjective documentary..."

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Part stream-of-consciousness diary, part experimental documentary, Mr. Cortisone, Happy Days follows director Shlomo Shir's last years and moments as he battles the recurring tumor which ultimately claimed his life.

Shot over three years, the film follows Shir in and out of hospitals and into his hopes and dreams for a normal life with his wife and newborn child. Moving constantly from the unseen hand behind the camera to the subject in front of it, Shir attempts to create a happy ending to his story. Yet his hopes are shattered with the discovery of aggressive new tumors in his spine. The camera becomes Shir's intimate companion as he flies to New York City where he awaits a series of operations meant to save his life. When he realizes that he is being sentenced to die on the operating table, Shir decides to leave the hospital, high on cortisone and painkillers, and let his soul free.

Documentary   |  US, Israel   |   2004  

85 min

Hebrew, English   

Subtitles:  English

Directors: Shlomo Shir & Duki Dror   

Producer: Duki Dror, Zygote Films Ltd.   

Script: Shlomo Shir    

Cinematography: Philippe Bellaiche

& Shlomo Shir   

Editor: Dani Itzhaki  


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In July 2002 we had to stop editing, as Shlomi’s health began to deteriorate. The tumor has spread over his spinal cord and it had to be operated on immediately. He chose to have it done at Mount Sinai hospital in New York City. He told me that he has a fifty fifty chance to survive this double-sided surgery, front and back, to clear his upper spinal cord from the tumor. We did not discuss what will happen with the film in case he will not return. All happened very quickly and I had to be with him and help him as a friend and at the same time, to make filmmaking decisions and be prepared for any possible situation. In September, two weeks before he left for New York, I rented an editing room with a live-in suite for Shlomi, who had difficulties moving from place to place. I asked him to experiment, to record his voice, to reedit scenes. Being his trainee and his editor at that time, I began to absorb the mind-frame of Shlomi. His departure to New York had no sense of conclusion or of upcoming loss. I asked him to keep writing all the time. He was supposed to be back within 3 weeks, but his journey lasted more than 3 months. He called often whenever the cortisone put his brain on a spin – talking for hours about how he envisions the film, about the loneliness and about the anger and the fear of death. He came back to Israel, broken in his body, his spirit and his soul, with 40 hours of new shootings. I was with him and his wife Orlin, when the doctor told him that he got little time to live. Shlomi looked at me and asked me to finish the film. Two days later, in February 2003, he died at age 31. It took us almost a year to contain and absorb the material and eventually to complete the film.

In the summer of 2000, Shlomi Shir was an editing assistant for my documentary “My Fantasia”. One day he asked me to stay after work to look at footage he was shooting. He was an introverted young man with a long scar on his neck. I knew little about his illness and even less about his talent. I was stunned from the first frame I saw. It wasn’t only the incredibly unique aesthetics of the shots, or the powerful subjectivity of the camera – I was taken by the transformation of this low-key man into a charismatic actor who operates in-front and behind the camera. A virtuosic camera operation choreographed with hyper-realistic drama – all in total directorial control and in a perfect sync.

It was also apparent that the camera is a weapon as well as a filter for his fears. He asked me to be his producer. I didn’t understand why he should have a producer, when his work is so totally subjective, I thought that no one should get in between. Finally I agreed to run the production, with the condition that we keep it intimate with Shlomi being a one-man band. We started to edit the film in April 2002. It was a story about a man spending one week in segregation. The story was supposed to have a happy ending – Shlomi had a newborn girl, the treatment seemed to work.